B.A.S.E. Sports Conditioning – Articles 38
A Pound of Prevention
Part III: Body weight strengthening.
By MIke Mejia, CSCS
Now that you’re familiar with the importance of warming-up the right way, it’s time to move on to another key factor in helping to minimize the risk of ACL injuries: getting stronger! Believe it or not, all of that playing and practicing that you do isn’t necessarily going to help strengthen your lower body to any appreciable degree. That means you’re also going to have to devote at least some time to improving the strength and stability of key areas that are responsible for promoting optimal knee health. And while there are all sort of different ways you can go about this, we’re going to start off with the basics by featuring drills that you can do using only your own body weight as resistance. Despite the fact that they don’t require any additional equipment, I’m sure you’ll find them to be more than challenging!
Whenever you’re talking about strengthening exercises aimed at improving knee stability, two major criteria come to mind. First, the drills need to be more “closed chain” in nature and require a co-contraction of the quadriceps and hamstrings (as well as the glutes). Closed chain movements refer to any exercise where the foot is in contact with, most typically, the ground (or some type of platform when training in the gym). By requiring the quadriceps and hamstrings to contract together to help stabilize the joint, these types of exercises help reduce unnecessary shearing force on the knee and offer a much safer alternative to isolation movements such as a leg extension, or machine leg curl where the foot hangs freely.
The second big thing you want to do is target an area known as the posterior chain; which is the sum of the hamstrings, glutes and spinal erectors working together as a unit. Making a concerted effort to strengthen this region of the body has been identified as one of the best ways for female athletes to reduce their incidence of suffering knee injuries of virtually any type.
The four exercise you’re about to see demonstrated in the video below do an excellent job of meeting all of these criteria. Not only that, but they’ll also help with things like increasing deceleration strength, as well enabling you to better resist against some of the rotary forces that have also been implicated in the alarming rise in knee injuries. They also require lots of balance and stability through the hip, knee and ankle joints!
Perhaps the best thing about these drills, however, is the fact that they can be done anytime, anywhere and are perfect for administering out on a field with large groups. So, whether you’re a coach who’s looking for a way to incorporate some strengthening drills into your practice sessions, or a player looking for every possible edge over your competition, you’ve come to the right place.
Give them a try and see how you do. Then stay tuned for the next installment of this series where we’ll go over gym based strengthening exercises.
Do 1-2 sets of each of the following 4 drills 2-3 times per week, following a full dynamic warm-up.
Triple Lunges (help increase deceleration strength):
Stand with your feet about shoulder’s width apart and begin by striding out into a forward lunge, making sure to keep your torso erect and drop your back knee down towards the ground. Then, push back up and step out into a side lunge with the same leg- making sure to sit your hips back, keep your other knee straight and have the knee on the side that you’re lunging towards point straight ahead, over your toes. Finally, stride into a reverse lunge with the same leg, making sure to keep your torso erect. That’s one round. Now switch to the other side and repeat the sequence. Continue until you’ve done 4-5 rounds per side.
Squat with abduction (Strengthen the glutes for better knee tracking):
Begin with your feet slightly wider than shoulder’s width and descend into a squat by keeping your chest up, driving your hips back and keeping most of your weight on the backs and outside parts of your feet. Squat down until your thighs are about parallel to the ground and then, as you push up, shift onto one leg and lift the opposite leg out to the side with your toes pointed forward. Hold for a second, then lower the foot back down to the start position and immediately squat and then lift the leg to the opposite side. Continue alternating until you’ve completed 8-10 reps per side.
Split Squat to Unilateral Romanian Deadlift (increases hip mobility and posterior chain strength):
Set up in a split squat position with one foot about two to three feet in front of the other, with your back heel elevated. Keep your torso erect as you drop straight down into the back leg until your front thigh is parallel to the ground. Pause for a second, then as you press back up, go into a “hip hinge” by leaning over at the waist and keeping your support leg (the forward leg of the split squat) slightly bent. Pause for a second when your body is about parallel to the ground and then carefully lower back into the split squat. Continue for 6-8 reps per side.
Standing Hip Excursions (helps the lower body resist against rotary force):
Stand balancing on one leg. With your support knee slightly bent, begin by bringing your other leg across the front of your body into internal rotation. Once you’ve gone as far as you can, slowly externally rotate your hips as you keep your support knee lined up directly over your toes. It’s very important that you don’t allow the support leg to rotate inward, or outward as the other leg moves. Do 6-8 reps per side and then switch.